Labour needs to put families first. Here’s how.

by Peter Watt

With years of austerity in prospect, the search is on for things to put on Labour’s famous blank piece of paper.  As health, welfare and education budgets come under pressure there is one institution above all others that a future Labour government should prioritise; the family.

The family is the best form of welfare there is from the cradle to the grave.  The family is a great place to provide a healthy environment for children and adults alike.   And a huge proportion of learning takes place in families as knowledge is passed literally from generation to generation.

Traditionally Labour family policy has focused on families who, for whatever reason, are down on their luck and who need some help with day-to-day essentials.  So the priority has been using the welfare state to target resources.  Free school meals, targeted benefits, Sure Start and so on.

But as Ed Miliband rightly points out, many other families with modest incomes have been offered little help and have been struggling.  So Labour should go into the next election with an unashamedly pro-family agenda that tries to make life a little easier for our millions of working families.  This doesn’t mean withdrawing support for some; it does though mean consciously prioritising the majority.  So here is a short list.  They should not cost much and some of them may seem small things.  Some will require us to possibly decide to stop doing something else and others may pay for themselves.  But collectively they will add up to a significant package of help.

Labour should introduce tax breaks for those with children.  It doesn’t have to be huge but as the cost of living goes up every little helps.  Increasing the tax free allowance for a nominated parent by £500 per child would make a significant difference to many household budgets.   And of course, the money would be spent by those who earned it boosting the economy.

If you have children then you use more gas and electricity.  The washing machine is on more; lights are on more and more rooms need to be kept warm.  Labour should offer a fuel guarantee to every family in the country.  They should extend the requirement of utility companies to offset their carbon emissions so that they are compelled to offer even more direct support for families to make their homes more energy efficient.   And the work that Labour has already started on cooperative buying of fuel and legal requirements for people to be offered the cheapest tariffs available by supplier should be extended nationally.

Child care costs an absolute fortune.  Labour should commit to introducing low cost universal childcare.  It would open the employment market to more women and would make work more financially attractive to even more people with more money being kept within the family.

If you have ever stood in a queue in a supermarket with boisterous children who are attracted by the sweets and toys conveniently placed to attract children then you know what a nightmare this can be.  In fact retailers use a whole variety of techniques designed to increase sales and aimed at children.  So Labour should introduce a code of conduct for all retailers that requires them to move all of the sweets and toys away from the cash desks as a start.  Stores over a certain size should maintain parent’s panels that are able to advise on how a store can actually be “family friendly.”

Those stores that are complying with the code should be allocated an accreditation mark that they can display so that parents can see that the code is being used.  Complying with the code should be a requirement for all new stores as a part of getting planning permission.

And then there are restaurants, cafes and even cinemas.  Try taking children into many and you soon discover what a child unfriendly country we often are.   Drinks are served in breakable glasses.  Portions are too big.  There’s no space for push-chairs and if your children are rowdy then you are made to feel uncomfortable.

So a Labour government should work with the private sector to introduce a “families welcome” certificate that means that families visiting can expect certain minimum standards when they visit.

Public institutions like hospitals are nightmarish places to visit with children.   Appointments are at difficult times due to school runs.  Appointments overrun and children become bored and crotchety.  You can leave after an appointment tired and stressed even if the result of the visit is good news.  So play areas should be provided at all hospitals where children are seen as outpatients.

And parents should be offered a text message when their doctor or nurse is nearly ready to see them so that you don’t sit for hours with very bored children.  And appointments should be available in the early evening and at weekends when you stand a better chance of getting help with child care for the other children.

And finally local authorities should be required to maintain a local resident family discount scheme, many already do.  Local suppliers could offer local families special offers and discounts that are available to them meaning money stretches just that bit further.  Local families could then have a resident’s card that allows them to get discounts on amenities, services, entertainment and so on.  It could even be a smartphone app for those that prefer.

So a little bit more money in family pockets; cheaper fuel bills; universal affordable child care; a code of conduct for retailers; a “families welcome” certificate for food outlets, cinemas and so on; easier appointments with children’s play areas in hospitals and local residents discount cards.

It might not be the sexiest piece of political wonkery ever and none has a fancy think tank inspired name.  But if you are a working family with children then each idea will make a difference; and taken as a package it will help make life easier.  It would also show that Labour is on your side.

Peter Watt was general secretary of the Labour party

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5 Responses to “Labour needs to put families first. Here’s how.”

  1. Nick says:

    They should not cost much and some of them may seem small things


    So how much debt have you left behind? All of it.

    The treasury say that they don’t/won’t pay the state pension. FOI request. Hence that doesn’t appear on the books.

    Go through it all an its about 7,000 bn of debt.

    On government tax revenues that is completely unaffordable.

    So all those families and pensioners, they are going to get hit.

    Not because want to help, but because you can’t.

  2. Nick says:

    Increasing the tax free allowance for a nominated parent by £500 per child would make a significant difference to many household budgets. And of course, the money would be spent by those who earned it boosting the economy.


    Give everyone a tax cut.

    Er, we can’t. We’ve all those debts to pay.

  3. Nick says:

    cheaper fuel bills;


    So why is your policy the opposite? More tax.

    e.g Force people to pay for expense green fuel. Ah but its cheap. So lets cut all subsidies. That makes it cheaper. Lets axe all fuel taxes.

    er. We can’t. We got all that debt to pay. So give us your retirement money, we will spend it.

    Won’t that mean I won’t get a pension when its my turn?

    Don’t worry about that, that’s a minor detail. Ask the treasury. They’ve got a plan.

    What’s the plan?

    Er, not to pay you pension, but if you don’t contribute, we will send our thugs round.

  4. BenM says:

    “We’ve all those debts to pay.”

    Let’s admit QE will never be unwound and cancel the debt the BoE owns.

    Ah, the debts we owe aren’t quite so onerous after all…

  5. uglyfatbloke says:

    How exactly are local suppliers going to afford to give away these discounted goods and services?
    If affordable childcare is so desirable, why has Labour been so obstructive in the Scottish parliament? Is it really just out of blind opposition to the gnats?

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